Confessions of a Conference Addict

Confessions of a Conference Addict

by Coleen Kelley Truckin’ Toastmasters

I am a conference addict. Most of my vacation time is spent traveling, listening to speakers and panels ranging from business and finance to self-development and health. Instead of movies on the weekend, I try to talk my elementary aged kids into TedTalk marathons. The other day while listening to the umpteenth audio book, my son incredulously asked, “how many books has this guy written?!” I had to explain to him that even though the narrator sounded the same, he was reading different author’s books. My daily vocabulary is full of buzz words I’ve heard, and my kids roll their eyes when I suggest habit stacking is the answer. Through all of these speeches, all of these topics, all of these venues however, the message was the same: become like me. Do what I do; I am the expert, and my way is the best. While inspiring at the time, they left me feeling inadequate. I was not a Navy SEAL, a wildly successful financier, or a sought-after Doctor; I did not even have a made for TV movie based on my life! This all changed when I attended the 2022 Toastmasters Conference this past weekend.

I showed up early of course. (Did I mention I was an addict?) This allowed me to set up and get a behind-the-scenes look at the players. I did not realize yet that this was not a conference to celebrate one person, or even several people, so I kept my eyes peeled for The One. I soon was assigned to be an Audio/Video lackey. As an electrical engineer, surely, I could figure this out. We tracked down laptops, passwords, cameras, speakers; we searched for outlets, connected cables, and taped wires in several rooms (back and forth and back again). Why did I wear heels? Still no sighting of The One.

The opening Parade of Banners was incredible. I have been in Toastmasters for 9 months and saw my club’s banner for the first time. Unlike sports teams that have their past trophies gathering dust in a glass cabinet somewhere unknown, each club proudly displayed every single award ever received. Most banners sagged heavily as Toastmasters past and present were honored. Toastmasters is a team that grows, each accolade boosting the club to push themselves. The ambiance in the grand ball room was as comforting as a family reunion with some meeting face to face for the first time ever and as electrifying as a playoff game with members exclaiming, “did you hear what we did?”.

Rey Brown was the first Keynote speaker. Surely, he must be The One we are supposed to become. I was expecting him to start his speech with his list of qualifications that were going to knock our socks off. “Year after year, you’ll be the same person except for the books you read and the people you meet,” he quoted. Wait, this was different. He was talking about us, not himself. He gave personal stories, but they cast him in an awkward and sometimes embarrassing light. Rey talked about reading the book “Wheat Belly” and it reminded me of the month I decided we (my four young children and I) would become vegans. My kids still eye my cooking suspiciously. Rey continued to give an enlightening speech that walked us through how we could grow and the first step he explained was deciding who we want to be. Here it comes, I thought, he’s going to tell us to be like him. I could not have been more wrong!  Paying attention to OUR tension/pain, he elaborated, would help us decide who we want to become. The books and information we take in can get us through our difficulties and the people we surround ourselves with, our tribe, can support our journey. We can grow into The One! Our One! What an eye-opening idea for a girl that has spent decades trying to be just like the speakers she has listened to. Rey Brown’s lesson on how to identify ourselves as The One focused enough, The One wise enough, The One connected enough to lead our own way was the perfect way to open this incredible conference!

Saturday convened earlier than any conference I have ever attended. But with a plate of warm pastries and a steaming cup of coffee, I was soon eager to begin the day. At some point in life, we have all wished that we could clone ourselves, and Saturday was one of those days for me. Each session offered 4 options, each speaking towards a different part of my soul. The first session, I chose to listen to Rey Brown again; he was speaking on “How to become Indispensable”. I had two outstanding reasons: first, my teenagers have expressed that I am “the worst mom ever” and I’m starting to feel it could be true. Second, I started a new job last year that I feel underqualified for. Coming from sales I knew how to market myself to get the job, but now it is time to really become The One in that position. Rey delivered again! He gave direction to focus my efforts, clarifying questions to set a destination, and methods to find and grow my resources. Even as a conference addict, I learned new ways to get more out of each interaction. My greatest takeaway was to “expire your learning” meaning once a question is answered, it is time to take action. In all the books I’ve read, speakers I’ve listened to, actually taking action MYSELF is the secret to moving from listening to The One to Becoming The One. Rey closed with a challenge, once you Become The One you want to be, share your journey.

The next session I attended was a panel “Jetset to New Leadership Heights”. Janet Fuchek moderated for Joyce Crawford and Betty Liedtke as they whisked us away with their virtual travel stories. So inspiring were their anecdotes, that the very next day, I virtually attended and evaluated for a club. I committed a embarrassing faux pax during the meeting, one that I can only hope to laugh about some day, but it was quickly overshadowed by the joy I experienced being able to connect with new groups and learning new methods. My third session of the day was honestly not what I wanted to attend, but what I NEEDED to attend. Leigh Gilliam spoke about “Adding Value to Evaluations” and when she mentioned it was interactive, I seriously contemplated sneaking out. You see, I had thought my evaluations were solid, until I watched the evaluation contest on Friday night. Wow! They were incredible! I had vowed to work on them as soon as I got home, but it appeared I was going to working on them now…in front of a room of experienced Toastmasters. None of my past conferences were the least bit interactive. Toastmasters, true to their word, is about you Becoming The One …. right now! Leigh walked us through what makes a mediocre evaluation, so we understood where we had room for improvement. She introduced the Rose technique, the Gift of Growth, Acronyms, and the Band technique. The interactive role playing was exhilarating and everyone had a chance or two to respond. I used the Rose technique in my evaluation role the next day and the Toastmaster praised me for the execution, much to my delight. The third breakout of the day found me with Annette Walters and her topic “How to step OUT of Overwhelm”. If ever there was a class designed for me, THIS was it. As a dual-career single mother of 4 children, 3 cats, 2 dogs, and 1 huge over-commitment compulsion, I am not even sure I know what relaxation looks like. Annette immediately grabbed my attention when she spoke about adaptability. We pride ourselves on multitasking, flexibility, and adaptability in our culture. However, the truth is these are just ways be become like other people, how we show up for other people. We are “flexible” not because we love running ourselves crazy, but because other people want many things from us, and we comply. She wisely walked us through ways to show up for Ourselves, how to identify Our cues, how to explore Our beliefs to Become The One we need, and *gasp* not feel guilty about it.

The 2022 learning portion of the Toastmasters Conference concluded with dinner, and a fireside chat with Elliotte Dunlap and Marcheta Gardner. By this time, we were all fired up about Becoming The One, but frequently after even the best conference the flame dies down. This is often because the passion, the tools, and the lessons alone are not enough. Elliotte gave us the fuel to keep the fire burning by introducing a Board of Directors, Project Economy, the Adversity Quotient, and his rules to live by. The Engineer in me loved his equation but the words will stick with me longer than the numbers. Success, he explained, requires us to do the following as many times as necessary: Be first, Give a damn, focus on Health and Happiness, Intentional Excellence, Situational Awareness, Trust in __, Will to ___, and curious learning to Infinity! Then and only then can we move from spending our lives searching for The One to save us and lead us, to experiencing our own growth as we Become The One.

The final event of the conference epitomized Becoming The One – the District 25 DTM Award Ceremony. In a world-renowned ceremony, three Toastmasters, Chuck Mencke, Jennifer Romaszewski and Curtis Wesley, were honored with the highest award attainable in the program, that of Distinguished Toastmaster. The three honorees exhibited everything Becoming The One entails, everything I aspire to be. You too can emerge from your cocoon and become a beautiful butterfly by embracing the ideas presented this weekend and continue your journey to Becoming The One.